10th Avenue Freakout

(Lex; 2005)

By Chet Betz | 3 November 2007

In a fictional anecdote that a guilty party will create in this very moment of critical struggle and self-pressure, Fog gives yours truly a thick, leather-bound French text, a heap of gold-crusted leaflet pages precariously bound that, with a good pinch of obliquity, describe and explicate The Art of Being Off-Kilter. In Fog’s other hand rests a scepter of minor importance; “Scepters of minor importance,” Fog’s thin-lips wink, “are an important part of placing oneself at an angle slightly askew of everything else around.”

Yours truly reads with wet, translating eyes, “Some sort of hook or melody or witticism or smashing cleverness fills the gooey caramel center of every off-kilter masterpiece; the people must love the tortured artist before they can love the over-abundant intellect that tortures him; also, bicycles were made to be pedaled through puddles thoroughly and exhaustively.”

So spinning bicycle spokes become water sprinklers spraying sunlight into rainbow fractions on “Can You Believe It?” The album’s first and finest puts drums and accordion keys on a teeter-totter while a posse of weird kids softly stomp the surrounding ground. The bass tremor pushes the pace to a fantastic finish. The playground dances. The listener loves Fog and his strongly melodic vocal delivery of “We’ll dig a hole in the ground / And cover it up with sticks / And chase a wooly mammoth in / And jab at it with our spears.”

Yet, this principal foundation of off-kilter art swiftly falls away during the 10th Avenue Freakout and leaves every delicately-lobed ear stretched for reaching, listening for something to cling to. Subsequent songs like “We’re Winning” and the title track flirt too flagrantly with a drum and bass atonality that makes harsh the swallowing of Fog’s off-key earnestness: “We dropped the ball / It rolled away / Down a hill / Onto the freeway / We didn’t look / We got run over / We died and rotted / We decomposed / We became fuel for future human / Flying cars our remains… Jesus Christ is my American Idol / He’s the brand new funky president.”

“When the artist says something, he must try to mean so much, and he must try to mean it in so many ways --- comically poignant, poignantly comic, and deadly seriously tragic - that he comes close to meaning almost nothing at all. The art of being off-kilter is a tight-rope act. Bears who walk on giant balls are the perfect sideshow.”

Fog loses footing and falls to be devoured by the circus grizzlies more often than not, but the beasts keep spewing him back out, and he keeps performing and finding moments in his lanky, loose-pop experiments where the spotlight can shine on his taut tiptoe progress: the brightly chiming stasis of the chorus to “Song About a Wedding,” the plucking simplicity of “O Telescope,” or the moody Ridley Scott texture of “A Murder.” 10 Avenue Freakout is a struggle between balance and shambles; the compositions constantly wobble beneath a gravity that threatens to bring them down for good and to render Broder’s brain inane for all time. Inside the Fog the heart particles rupture from the opposing pulls of avant-aspirations and an eager desire to please, killing the music’s blood pressure and making its form neither hard nor soft… simply limp. On this album the off-kilter art skirts rhythms that click, fumbles the resolutions to promising melodies, and mumbles a half dozen hokey non-sequiturs for every one fine line that it actually needs.

“Sacrificially and unselfishly, the artisan of the off-kilter will accept years of his own frustrated teetering in hopes that one day he will mutate, that he will become a freak with six toes on each foot, and that extra digit, that badge of odd evolutionary privilege, will help him stay on his tight-rope - at least more than usual.”

Yours truly hands the book back to Fog and watches as he walks off on a leaning slant, his arms outstretched with scepter and text, practicing his act on a pavement crack and breaking a million mothers’ backs. Little fleshy nubs grow like purposeful warts on the sides of his bare feet.